Warning: Turn down the volume on your computer 'cause I am screaming like crazy as my dad runs by.

The LA Marathon was yesterday and what a day. We went early and staked out a spot at the 26 mile mark, which meant the runners had .2 miles left and the finish line was in plain sight. Some of them looked as fresh as mile 1 and others looked as though every step was agony. My dad finished the marathon in 3:51, and 7th in his division.

We saw the elite runners come in and I was so happy to see a woman win the gender challenge. After that, we had about an hour left until my dad came in so we just stood and cheered on all the other runners. Fun!
Congratulations to all the runners. You all did a great job!

If there's one thing being with a group of published authors does for a writer aspiring to be published, it's inspire.

That's how I spent my weekend at Left Coast Crime. Being inspired. But also being reminded that time is a-wasting and I need to start expecting more of myself if I want to get this book done.

I came back from the conference with one thought in mind: I need to demand more of myself. I need to set a schedule and stick to it. I need to put more serious, concentrated time into my writing and I need to set goals and meet them.

I don't know when or how my writing career will unfold, but it's certain it won't happen at all if I don't stop cutting myself so much slack. This isn't about berating myself for not being good enough. It's about having the discipline to get something of value accomplished.

At dinner the other night I told some friends "If I had an employer, I would've been fired a long time ago." In evaluating my performance lately, I've come up short. It's not a big deal, nothing to panic over, but this is an opportunity to make some important changes.

What about you? Do you find yourself needing to make a few changes? It's time for Mid-March Resolutions!

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Tomorrow begins Left Coast Crime, my first conference of 2010. It's also the first time I've attended Left Coast Crime, but with an author list like this (and the fact it's in LA this year) how could I miss it?

I am looking forward to exploring the world of LA crime fiction. It's such a rich sub-genre; writers like Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, and James Ellroy have succeeded in exploring the underbelly of this city, giving it an almost mythic quality.

The program looks fantastic. A highlight for me will be a walking tour of noir LA led by James Scott Bell, author of the Ty Buchanan series. As much as I love this city–and I do–I am unfamiliar with some of its most intriguing (and sinister) locations. This tour promises to be an interesting glimpse into some of these places.

Other panels I plan to attend are: Pulp Fiction (which includes Kelli Stanley, author of one of my recent favorite, City of Dragons), Robert Crais's LA, Wanna Be a Writer?, etc. Seriously, there are so many great panels for this conference there are several conflicts for me. I'll have to choose wisely!

This conference will be another first for me: I plan to bring my little dog Stella. Traveling with a pooch is challenging, but taking her means a little less work for Mick and this is also an opportunity to see how she takes to staying in a hotel. Since the conference hotel is just in Downtown LA, if I have an emergency (such as excessive barking) I can just drive her back home. Plus she'll be great company. I always miss my dogs so much when I travel.

Hope you all have a great weekend and I'll see you back here on Monday!

Over the weekend, Mick and I traveled to Sacramento to attend Authors on the Move, an event which benefited the Sacramento Public Library Foundation. My talented brother, John O'Neill, chaired the event, and it was a huge success.

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Although the evening was wonderful for many reasons, the biggest thrill for me was hearing keynote speakers Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones and her husband, Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil. Remember when I talked about how inspirational it is to meet your favorite authors and hear them speak? Well these two authors were no exception. The Lovely Bones is perhaps the most moving book I have ever read, certainly as an adult, and one that moves me to tears each time I read it. I felt strangely emotional just hearing Alice Sebold speak about it.

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In this video, Alice and Glen talk about fear of success and failure:

Of course, as great as it was to hear them speak, the heart of the event is the many other authors who participated. The premise is that while you eat dinner, a participating author sits and speaks with you. They tell you about their book(s), about the writing process, answer your questions, etc. Our table was lucky enough to have Keith Raffel, author of a thriller series based in the Silcon Valley, followed by Marilyn Reynolds, author of several young adult books, and Judith Hortsman, author of A Day in the Life of your Brain. All three were charming, entertaining, and open about their writing. It was a pleasure meeting all of them.

The real winner in all of this was the Sacramento Library Foundation. It was a great event, and I hope they raised lots and lots of money.

 

Note: This post was originally published on July 25, 2009

My husband and I just watched a program on PBS called Secrets of the Samarai Sword. It’s available to watch on the internet, and I recommend it.

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There are several reasons why this program was interesting to me personally. First, my husband picked up a book at a library book sale awhile back about Japanese swords and was immediately taken with them. That year for his birthday, I embarked on my own research and bought one for him. Much like making a sword, it was a painstaking process; there are lots of “fakes” out there, particularly, swords made by machine during WWII, and an authentic, handmade sword is expensive. I’m not sure I’d have the confidence even now to buy one again, although I’m certain that the one I bought him is authentic. We both love that sword–it is almost as important to me as my wedding ring, if you want the truth.

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The second reason I found this program engaging is because I’m a goldsmith. I make jewelry out of gold and silver and some of the processes used are similar, if not the same. I use ancient techniques to make my jewelry, and this type of craftsmanship appeals to me. I’m definitely not comparing my level of expertise to the level presented by the master swords-maker profiled, but my experience with making jewelry makes me extremely interested in the techniques used in Japanese sword-making.

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The level of expertise required to make a sword can be applied to any field, whether it be sword making, jewelry making, or in my case now, writing. Young people apprentice in this work at an early age and through the years become experts themselves, thus preserving a tradition that is hundreds of years old. It is a reminder that to be good at anything, even if one possesses natural talent, takes years of practice. It is affirming and daunting at the same time–I am a novice at writing, at least as it pertains to novels, and I have a lot of work in front of me to become an “expert.”

Having been to Japan and having even visited the sword museum in Tokyo shown in the program, I was also interested in the cultural aspects of Samarais, sword fighting, and sword making. But for me, the really compelling part is the fabrication of the sword. It is fascinating, and an important reminder that hard work and persistence is an important key to success.

Link-o-rama Today is a day of reflection as we look back upon the terrible events of 9/11, eight years ago.

Reading Underground - The subway remains an "unconnected" place. And so, New Yorkers read. via @mitaliperkins

Pug in my Computer – Something happy to remind you how nice life can be (via @ParkerXL)

The Elusive Fifty Percent - In marketing, about 50% of your ad campaign will work. But for an author marketing their own work (now an essential part of the publishing process) how do they know what to concentrate on? (via @jamesscottbell)

Writing with a Knife - A timely post from Copyblogger since I'm currently taking a machete to my manuscript (via @D_E and @thecreativepenn)

North Carolina Writer's Police Academy - One of these days I'll have to go to a writer's police academy. For now it seems unnecessary since my book(s) are set in 1678.

I found this amusing video on Persia Walker's blog. It was made by Brad Meltzer (author of loads of books):

Finally, I'll leave you with this quote from Anne Frank:

"Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."

Have a reflective day and take the time to do something thoughtful for another or even yourself. Kindness is sometimes in short supply.

I joined Twitter around the same time I joined Facebook, but I never used it because, well, it didn't seem very useful to me.  At the time, I suppose it wasn't.  I only truly got interested in it in the last month, when John at This Young House posted this:

If you’ve noticed the “Tweet Nothings” widget on our sidebar, then you probably already know that we’re on Twitter. I’m the primary tweeter between the two of us, using it to share tidbits that aren’t quite full-post-worthy and keeping you updated when we’re on the move (like if we’ve just spotted a new deal while out shopping). We’d love to mutually follow more of you, so check us out here and click “follow” under our picture. No clue what Twitter is? Watch this to get you started.

I thought "Hey, that's not such a bad idea!  I'll try that myself."  I was intrigued by the concept of microblogging, and unlike Facebook, where I generally post drivel for all my friends to see, I planned to use Twitter in much the same way I use my blog.  To pass on information.

But Twitter really exploded for me when I read about something called #queryfail in Media Bistro's Galley Cat blog.  During #queryfail, agents and editors twittered their worst queries.  As someone who is writing their first novel but who has no experience with the publishing industry, I was completely interested.  I headed on over to Twitter and was "introduced" to a group of people who were entertaining, honest, knowledgeable, and best of all, willing to share information.

On any given day, I am treated to a selection of links as diverse as these:

Doris Lessing:  On Why Autobiography is Inevitably Untrue via Stephka, who writes The Crooked House

50 Reasons No One Wants to Publish Your First Book, via DanielLiterary

Insane Hiking Trail via EGDeedy (RT Zeblue_Prime and Maczter)

Novel Approach:  Undercover at Library via KevinRoose, an author whose book UNLIKELY DISCIPLE: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University comes out this month.

Q & A with Literary Agent Michelle Brower via mariaschneider

What's the Hook?  The Art of the Pitch via joefinder, best selling author

I follow authors, literary agents, editors, book publicists–anyone who I think will post useful information for me to gobble up.  Right now, I'm pretty much in listening mode, but as I learn and find things to share, I will be more of an active participant.

To use a Twitter-appropriate analogy, I am like a baby bird with my beak wide open, waiting for its mommy to come back to the nest to feed me.  Feed me information!

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Baby hummingbirds by T. Solis

Of course, I also follow crafty-types and DIYers because, ya know, that's in my blood.  Truth be told, however, those folks don't tweet near as often as the literary-types, so most of what I get out of twitter is in that vein.

Here's another good post on why Twitter is useful.

I leave you with a few twit-bits from Top 10 Tips for Twitter…And Life, via Bookgal:

1. Fluff and filler are no longer an option. Nobody has time/interest in reading them. Get to the point.

2. Be real. 140 chars is cut to the bone – you can’t wear a fake character on top and still fit.

3. Pick what’s important. You could use twitter to talk about your day down to the bowel movements, but then you’d have nobody following you. People follow you on twitter because what’s important to you is a match with what’s important to them, so share it!

As many of you know I've been a volunteer for PAWS/LA since 2001.  Since that time, the staff and volunteers of PAWS/LA have worked hard to grow the organization and I am so proud of it.

LogoPAWS/LA clients, which includes people with life-threatening illnesses, seniors, and other disenfranchised pet owners, have numerous challenges in their lives.  PAWS/LA helps ensure that losing their beloved pet(s) isn't one of them.

I am passionate about PAWS/LA's mission for a couple of reasons.  First, anyone who has ever owned a pet knows what a great source of love and support they are and how much they enhance the quality of life.  Keeping pets with their owners at their "hour of need" is tremendously important in aiding their recovery.  Second, many animals end up in shelters when their owners are no longer able to care for them because of illness or financial hardship.  PAWS/LA is dedicated to keeping these animals with their owners and out of shelters.

All of this to say that PAWS/LA asked me to help them set up a presence on Facebook, which I have gladly done.

PAWS/LA Cause Page – You can donate to PAWS/LA via the donation link on this page as well as actively participate in promoting PAWS/LA by asking friends to join the cause, posting a box to your profile, and donating your status to the cause.

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PAWS/LA Group Page and PAWS/LA Fan Page – Joining either of these pages helps promote PAWS/LA to your friends and keeps you updated on special events, volunteer opportunities, and news about PAWS/LA.

If like me, you believe in PAWS/LA's mission and are a member of Facebook, please consider joining any of these pages, volunteering, or making a donation.

I didn't come up with the line "fuck cancer," but I wish I did.  A good friend of mine from high school was diagnosed with bile duct cancer a month ago and one of her friends made her a necklace that displays this defiant message. I may not have thought of it, but it's definitely a message that I, and the rest of her friends and family, can get behind.

The cancer has compromised much of my friend's bile ducts and liver–so much so that removal of the tumor is not an option.  Her treatment for now will be radiation and chemotherapy to stop the growth and shrink the tumor, with the possibility of a living donor liver transplant in the future.  She is 40, has three wonderful kids, and a great husband. 

Who hasn't heard a story like this before?  They are everywhere, and every time I hear one like it I feel a pang of sympathy and then I move on to the very next thing–like what to write as my Facebook status or looking for knit patterns on Ravelry.  Certainly I knew these stories could be filed in the "Sometimes Life Really Sucks" category.  I just didn't know how much it could suck until I heard that someone I cared about had a life-threatening illness.

Not that I'm berating myself for the many superficial things I do every day.  Life is to be lived, and a big part of life is the little things we do that give us pleasure.  But aside from the obvious fear and pain that comes from learning about a diagnosis like this, there is the equally obvious reminder that life is short.  Perhaps it's time to spend a little less time doing the little stuff and put some more effort into the things that really mean something to me.  Ironically, these are feelings I've had a lot lately since I turned 40 this year–but it took this news for me to realize it was time to stop moaning and do something about it.

At this point, I'm feeling very optimistic that my friend will beat this cancer and resume her happy, healthy life.  But her life, and the life of her family, has been rudely interrupted.  I have a luxury she doesn't have at the moment–my health–and damn it, I am thankful for that luxury.  I'm gonna milk it for all it's worth.  This, more than anything, is what I have been taught by this.  This cancer is not happening to me, but FUCK if I'm going to waste more precious time when I have the gift of living life uninterrupted.  It is time to write.  Eleven thousand words later and I'm finally feeling like I am the writer I've wanted to be since I was a child.

This is the way I will personally "fuck cancer."

In the mean time, I will also do everything I can to help support my friend during this interruption in her life.  She, and all of her friends and family are standing together, fists in the air, shouting "FUCK CANCER!" 

I’m not sure what triggered it, but today I did a search on YouTube for my former choir director, Paul Salamunovich, and found this:

Okay, I’m not asking you to look at almost 10 minutes of video of a boring chorale/orchestral performance (or am I)?

I just had to post this because I totally remember this performance (I am somewhere on the middle-left, about three rows back) and it brought back such vivid memories of a very important time in my life.

At the time, 1987, I had a very good, clear, soprano voice.  By the time I graduated I was a second soprano.  Now I can hardly sing at all.  Must be all the whiskey and cigarettes.

But most importantly, I want to say that Paul Salamunovich was a very important man in my life.  He was inspiring, unyielding, and completely unforgiving if you missed a note (and if you couldn’t sight sing, forget it, get the fuck out of here).  And he could coax the sweetest of sounds out of the most clueless of freshmen.  I know, because I was one of them.  Every rehearsal was a performance, and he explained the music in such a way that it felt like theatre–you weren’t just singing, you were acting, you were being the music.  Sound poetic, and in a way I’m sure it is–you know the memory of an eighteen year-girl.  Always romance and flowers.

He is, to use a very tired cliche, the real deal.  And I am so very proud to have been able to work with him.